Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Halloween III

This one is eerie.

I, like most people, have some extremely realistic and frightening dreams. One night I dreamed that I was asleep in a recliner. Not a likely thing. I don't do recliners. At any rate, I was sleeping in the chair, and after a moment, hands closed around my throat. I awoke and resisted with all my strength. The would-be strangler scooted and I woke from the dream.

Several months later I read in the Dallas Morning News of a woman who resisted a strangler who approached her while she was asleep in her recliner. That's strange stuff.

Halloween II

When we moved to a new neighborhood in 1968, our paperboy was a skinny kid named Russell Smith. He was in my sixth-grade class.

We became great buddies over the years, and he turned out gay, so my parents had no objections when we decided to share a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment at about the age of twenty.

Our bathrooms had shower curtains rather than doors. One evening I was taking a good hot shower before going out on the town. As far as I knew, I was alone in the apartment. I was busily soaping my hair when a hand reached in and touched my foot. Now, I have seen Psycho more than once. I bet you have, too.


Like my daddy, Mr. Possum, I was raised without superstition. However, I was raised with five big brothers and a big sister, which was horror enough. Paul, the youngest of my brothers, was 11 years older than I and liked nothing better than to tease. He inked a devil's face on my favorite rubber doll. He tickled me until I peed my pants. He drew excellent cartoons of me in the bathtub with fart bubbles. He was and is incorrigible.

When he was fourteen or so he tired of being the puniest of the boys and sent for the Charles Atlas body-building program and followed it religiously. After a while, he could grasp the trunk of the apple tree in our front yard and hold himself parallel to the ground. He could do I don't know how many chin-ups on the bedroom doorframe.

One night, I was walking home from my playmate's house four doors down the street and heard an evil laugh. I looked around, frightened, and there was Paul, suspended by his toes from the redbud tree at the corner of our yard.

We didn't have any air-conditioning in our house until 1966. We kept cool with open windows and squirrel-cage fans.

I was, of course, always put to bed before the rest of the kids. From time to time, I would run screaming from the bedroom because someone was scratching on the windowscreen. Paul, certainly.

Of all his little evils, the kitchen door was the worst. Our kitchen door had a window. One black night, I looked up to see a face scrunched against the glass. There goes Janis bawling into Mother's skirt.

The house I live in now is on the edge of town, near farm fields, and is very dark despite the neighbors' mercury lights. The master bath has a window that lets onto the back yard. Even now I expect to see a face scrunched against that window one night. And I stifle a shudder when I hear critters rooting through the flowerbeds or scratching at the screen. At least nobody is hanging from the live oaks.

I want to grow up to be like this woman.

Mr. Gibbs died on Sunday. He was buried on Tuesday. He was a well-liked man. Rest his soul.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Good grief, wouldn't you know that the suspects in the sniper case would have a connection to Louisiana?

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

My candidate's husband had a major heart attack at 6 am on Friday morning. I found out Tuesday night when I started making my calls. He is in a touch-and-go situation. My candidate is as close as possible to his bedside and has not withdrawn from the race. If you're the praying kind, send one up for Jackie Gibbs. He's struggling for his life.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

I'm interested in some feedback at I have enlisted to help a woman candidate for local judge unseat the first woman elected to the position six years ago. I genuinely believe that my candidate is better qualified for the position.

I have been given a call list for the precinct I live in. I have not been given a script. I do not know most of the people on the list.

What approach would be most effective?

On to other things. My blog-daddy Possumblog is both an alumnus and fan of Auburn. Ours has always been an LSU house. Lyman has been to Louisiana Tech, Northeast and Loyola. It wasn't until Lyman's son's graduation from LSU after seven years (note to Possum: hair regrows) that we can have official standing as LSU fans. So I genially wish that we kick your asses next week.

No balloons today. The weather was poor for the race, with a rainy sort of clouds and some gusting winds.

We arrived too late for the balloon glow last night, when the balloonists fire up their burners and float the balloons close to the ground. That's the stuff for childhood fantasy. It's magical. Pity. They started earlier than I remember.

We were early for the fireworks, though. This is a piddly little area, but fireworks are so advanced now that even we can afford a red heart-within-a-heart display.

We were also early enough for the Flying Elvises. They are professional parachuters who dropped from pretty damned high in the sky with golden sparklers attached, then landed on the grounds of Rosalie, a lovely old house that the Union occupied when they were in Natchez. It's situated on a bluff with a commanding view of the Mississippi River. If you follow the site you will see a lot of ugly, though historically significant, Victorian furniture. But in one room there is a Hepplewhite desk that is lovely. It's one of the pieces original to the house. It pleases me to think that the builder and his wife had better taste than most of what is on display now.

The ballooners will begin again around 8 tomorrow morning, weather permitting.

Lucy had a busy morning yesterday, trying to jump from her playtree onto our desk counter area, and a time playing Xena, and generally dissipating a toddler's energy, so she was a little tired when we parked on the levee at 7:15. (Note to readers: the levy here is never dry.) She hunkered on my shoulder and did not seem to mind the big noises. She joined in with our oohs and aahs.

I argued against a bird when Lyman proposed the notion. Try to take her from me now.

Friday, October 18, 2002

This weekend is a party weekend. Time again for the Great Mississippi Balloon Race. This will be Lucy's first experience with hot-air balloons. They often come hissing right over our house.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Back to "terrorism" as a motive in the Maryland shootings. Witnesses have reported seeing an "olive-skinned" person at the scene, some say with "middle eastern" features. Go to Jim Henley's site Unqualified Offerings for a complete local perspective.

I come from a family of seven children. We have one sure Native American ancestor. There is a strong split in our features. Four of us have brownish-red to dark brown hair, hazel to green eyes, with medium complexions. Three brothers have brownish-black hair, brown eyes and dark complexions, with a dread propensity to five-o-clock shadow.

Two of my brothers have told me that they have often been mistaken for Mediterranean or Latino on the basis of their looks. Of course, they eventually opened their mouths and were discovered for what they were -- pure Texans.

"Olive-skinned" gets us nowhere. In America we have Italians, Greeks, Native Americans, Indians, Asians, Middle Easterners and countless mongrels who may meet the desciption without implying foreign terrorism.

We also have Clairol, L'Oreal, Cover Girl, Maybelline, Clinique and Lancome.

I don't want to close the door on foreign terrorism, but our history has shown that we are perfectly capable of rearing murderers among ourselves.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Charles Starkweather and his girl Caril Fugate were serial killers in the fifties. You can find a synopsis of their story here.

Here's an interesting take on the story by Bob Hall, a writer who grew up in Charles Starkweather's neighborhood in Nebraska. Bob Hall:

I'm afraid the outlaw who most affected me [was] a mass murderer named Charles Starkweather. In 1958, when I was thirteen, Charlie and his girlfriend Caryl Fugate killed eleven people in and around my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. The papers always referred to it as a "killing spree." "Spree" ... like a perverse joy ride. What could compel a young, not too dumb garbage man from the midwest to snuff out innocent lives in a week-long paroxysm of wildness? I've mulled that over for nearly forty years.

I was too young to really know Charlie, but he and his dad collected my family's garbage, and I went to junior high with Caryl Fugate. I remember Caryl telling Miss Ralston, our art teacher, "You old bitch! Someday I'm going to kill you!" While Caryl and Charlie were on their rampage, Miss Ralston, to the delight of her students, stayed home and locked her doors. As a teenager in Lincoln, I understood pent up anger and boredom and I appreciated someone who could give adults cause to cringe in their pretty white-fenced homes. The killings themselves seemed the incidental means to an end. The important thing was that, for a little while, Charlie completely disrupted life in a world that begged for disruption. The discovery of his first victims caused an uproar and school was dismissed early. We weren't told why so, upon leaving the building, I was amazed to see hundreds of cars clogging the streets -- terrified parents anxious to save their kids from the homicidal maniac who had hung out in this very schoolyard.

We despised parents and teachers for being solicitous of our welfare, for locking us in even as one of our peers was breaking dramatically free. We made mental lists of potential victims for Charlie's rifle even as we reveled in his ability to paralyze the entire state. His name was on the evening national news. We imagined him terrorizing the blue highways in his stolen car, going nowhere and everywhere, taking shit from no one, having sex openly and freely. He surely realized that his actions would lead to the electric chair. But then execution freed him from the draft and taxes and marriage and children and church and old age. Charlie would not grow a paunch, go bald, get cancer, have to give up smoking. He'd never again suffer insurance salesmen, beg for bank loans, cringe before teachers. Like James Dean, he could be cool forever.

Charlie has always been my notion of an outlaw -- Robin Hood and Pretty Boy Floyd done up as a fifties hood. It was hard to pity his victims who, for me, existed only on an abstract, B-movie plane. They were dead adults and death was the inevitable result of growing up. Even then I knew Charlie was despicable: a cowardly, bullying, indiscriminate killer. But then one must not scrutinize outlaw heroes too closely. Since 1958, as the reality of Charlie has devolved into nightmares of Manson and Dahmler, Vietnam and Rwanda, we've become inured to the body count. Blood that's not ours is so much catsup. Like the Romans, we prefer our entertainment red, whether served up by Stallone, CNN or comic book noir.

Charlie's rampage on the bleak winter prairie has become the romanticized stuff of Hollywood in at least two films: Badlands and Starkweather. (Tim Roth -- fine actor though he is -- couldn't capture the essence of fifties frustration in the TV version; Martin Sheen in Badlands was on the money.) Bruce Springsteen made Charlie a mournful ballad in the Nebraska album. Natural Born Killers was the Starkweather legend gone MTV. Even a folksy guy like Garrison Keiler once called Charlie his adolescent hero. Mine, too. I don't like it, but I understand it.

Charlie's brother Bob was my age. God, the shit that kid must have suffered! He never talked much, but I liked him. If you caught his eye in home room, he'd flash you the best Marlon Brando impression I ever saw. I knew the youngest Starkweather, David, when he was in the theatre department at the U of Nebraska. He was a fine actor and playwright. I never had the guts to ask him about his brother, but I can't imagine Charlie was his hero. He would have been too close and too real.

Recently, I was back in Lincoln and visited my father's grave, something I had not done since my mother died ten years ago. At that time the mourners had obscured the flat markers of the adjoining plots. This time, while I was staring blankly at Dad's permanent residence, my girlfriend said, " Bob, your father's buried next to Charlie Starkweather!" Indeed he was. I doubt that Dad minds much. He always liked one quote from Charlie which has stuck with me over the years:

'Why'd you do it, Charlie?' asked a reporter from the Evening Journal.

Charlie replied, 'We were only trying to get out of town.'

Do we have something similar in Maryland?

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

I feel a tic coming. It has to do with the the designation "terrorist". I am a traditionalist, and I think the word "terrorist" should be kept for movements or individuals who wish to connect their activities to a political objective. In the past, that has been done through an announcement to the press or through other means of disseminating a political objective. Otherwise, these "murderers" are merely just that, or, at best, "failed terrorists".

Hmm, "merely just" could be a little redundant, heh. Delete one.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Category 2 for Miss Lili, not a 4. She wasn't so hot after all, huh?

Did they lie, to tear all those south Louisianans out of their beloved homes so we wouldn't have an unnecessary death toll? Or maybe GWB backed a plot to send as many poor families as possible into hotels, to raise consumer demand so the economy doesn't look so bad? Hell, he's so good with God, maybe he just ordered the whole thing up to stimulate the economy. Hateful Republicans.

Jeez, I'm glad my name is Gore. I can feel real solidarity with all them little people.

Damage in south Louisiana still looks bad, according to TV reports: 127,000 people without electricity, loose power lines, dropped trees on cars and roofs, thigh-high flooding, awnings and signs down and scattered across hundreds of yards. Just picking up dropped tree limbs will take hours on some of those properties. But not a 4.